Last week, I was invited to speak to Rotarians at Technical University of Kenya about saving money. I spoke to them about 10 things to think about in your 20s, I will split it into two posts of five each.
1.Saving starts with earning some money (obviously). When you are a student, it is easy to postpone earning money until you are done with school – after all, you are getting support from your parents or HELB, and you are still young. As a student you may not have much work experience, but you have a number of assets you can leverage to start earning money while in school:
- Leverage your time. Most universities have classes for 21 hours a week. This leaves you with another 19-20 daytime hours Monday to Friday, and maybe another 10 night-time hours, plus the weekend. In addition to this, you have school breaks where your time is all yours. Spend this time learning a skill that could earn you some money. If you come from upcountry, see what services you can offer businesses around your area, start tutoring primary school and high school kids at a fee, if you have a family farm, start some projects there. There is so much to be done, you have the time for it. I was in university a long time ago, but I earned some money as a tutor in the local primary school, tomato farmer, I helped manage a sausage factory in Githurai while in school, interned as an accounts trainee at a local mission hospital (this was meant to be a free gig but because I did productive work, I was paid 5k a month, which was ok money since I had no expenses).
- Leverage your energy. In addition to time, your 20s are the most energetic you are ever going to be. Conventional practice is to spend that energy partying and having a good time, and doing little else. Balance it out, and apply this energy in ways that bring you an income.
- Leverage your passions. What are you passionate about, and what can you do about it? As a student, your bills are paid, and therefore you have the luxury to act on your passions without worrying about rent. Build on those passions and see how you can get paid through them.
- Leverage your resources. You have free wifi at university, and we are living in an age where people are making money off the internet. You can choose to create (a blog, a vlog about topics you are passionate about etc) , or even look for work online through platforms like Upwork.com and others. The web also has practical educational resources. Anything you want to learn can be learnt on the internet. The second resource you have is your colleagues. Should you opt for a small business, you have a customer base right here in the compound. What is the one thing that people struggle to find but need? Find a way to fix their small pain and get paid for it. Your colleagues can also be your business partners. Want to start a vlog? Partner with someone studying video editing and share the earnings.
2. Money is money, no matter the source. If I gave you 500 shillings right now, what would you spend it on? What about if you did a task and were paid 500 shillings? What about the 500 shillings you have in your pocket, as an allowance from your folks? Chances are, you have a different answer for each of the three scenarios. You would most probably treat yourself or impulse buy with the “random cash” – the money from me. You are likely to be most judicious in spending the money from your parents (pocket money has designated uses), and most probably the money you earned would go into long-term uses. Thing is, there is really no difference between the three 500 bobs. In each scenario, the money has the same value, but our perception of it determines if we will do something of value with it or not. If your goal is to save money, then the source of money should not determine whether you save it or not. You can save money gifted to you, money earned or even your pocket money, all will help you reach your goals faster.
3. Being good with money is not about your earning or education level. If you want practical lessons on how to manage money, talk to the lady who sells you mboga. Other than politicians (who do not count), the millionaires of Nairobi are in Wakulima Market, Gikomba, Toi Market, Kamukunji, and other informal markets. These people do not have degrees and MBAs in finance, yet they educate their children, they save up and build their own homes, and even invest in real estate. We have seen stories of boda boda guys who built a housing estate from saving 50 shillings and 100 shillings every day. If you cross Uhuru Highway to upmarket Nairobi, you see fancy cars and people in suits, but if most are honest, they are struggling to scrape by without debt. The cars are financed by bank loans, the suits are bought on credit/credit cards, the little investments they have made would not sustain that lifestyle if they lost their jobs today. The difference between these two extremes is two key habits:
- Living below your means
- Consistently saving money. Haba na haba hujaza kibaba. The little you save adds up in the long term.
4. Do not buy into the lie that your income will always go up. This is connected to the above point. We all know the story – go to school, get a degree and once you get a job, you will get an annual increase / promotions and you will keep earning more and more money until one day you will be earning enough to be considered rich – to be able to buy everything you have ever wanted and still invest. This happens to a tiny tiny percentage of people, especially in our economy. As you prepare to get out into the workplace, treat your income as if it is all you will ever earn.
Do not keep adjusting your lifestyle upwards to fit increase in income. It is fine to shift from “survival-mode to comfort” once you are earning, but if you keep shifting upwards each time your earnings grow, you will never have enough to save or invest. Also, income does not always increase. People lose jobs, companies that have employed us go out of business, and so on. Get into the workplace with the mentality that the income you have is temporary and should therefore be spent judiciously.
5. A little luxury every day is no luxury. Think about when you first got your current phone. It most probably was an upgrade, which came with all these exciting features, and a great selfie camera 🙂 For the first month, you loved it and enjoyed using it. However, if you have had it a couple of months, it is no longer exciting. You probably are even eyeing another phone that would be better to have. Has the phone changed? Nope. It still takes great selfies. What has changed is your perception of it. Once you have something every day, it stops being luxurious. If you love a certain brand of ice cream but you eat it daily, you probably won’t enjoy it as much one month into the daily feasting. Same with clubbing. If you enjoy a good party, then you start partying every week from Thursday till Sunday, it will stop ranking as your most fun activity.
Unfortunately, we tend to binge on experiences that we consider luxurious, and these experiences cost money, which adds up. How about if you restrict your experiences? Imagine if you decided to party once a month? You would plan for it, look forward to it (the anticipation is half the fulfilment), and that night you would go all out (because you have earned it), and the party would remain in your mind for days thereafter. Earning your luxuries increases your enjoyment of them, and also saves you money.